As potential litigation involving the on-campus drowning of San Ramon Valley High School freshman Benjamin Curry looms, the boy's sister and several other residents spoke at the school board meeting this week to voice their displeasure at the conduct of the district in the aftermath of the teen's death in May.
In the first week of October, the Curry family filed a claim -- which is typically the precursor to a lawsuit -- arguing that Curry’s physical education teacher failed to properly supervise the students in his class. District residents and Ben’s older sister Katrina Curry attended the San Ramon Valley Unified School District's meeting Tuesday evening to address the board, all in different ways saying "this was preventable."
“The pain of losing Ben has been indescribable but these past months, knowing his death had been preventable, have been excruciating,” Ben’s sister Katrina Curry told the board Tuesday night in Danville. “Ben drowned in class in PE class in front of Aaron Becker and he was left at the bottom of the pool for over an hour... Becker has been allowed to remain responsible for children's lives while he is still employed and actively teaching PE at SRVHS."
Becker was named in the Curry family’s claim as the teacher in charge of the PE class when Ben Curry drowned. The claim alleges that Becker -- who is also the school's head varsity football coach and associate athletic director -- had the PE class tread water for three minutes, not allowing students to touch the pool’s ropes
The claim further points out that Becker was tasked with the safety of 57 students, without any assistance from lifeguards.
In accordance with the Brown Act, school board members said they were not allowed to address the speakers because the item was not listed on their meeting agenda, but chief business officer Greg Medici did briefly acknowledge the speakers.
“We are in active communication with the Curry family's attorney and are very much interested in addressing comments that have been shared tonight,” he said before the board moved on to its next scheduled item.
"We have completed our review of the claim and are working with the Curry family attorney. Ben Curry’s death is a terrible tragedy and all involved share an interest in providing accurate information with our community as soon as possible," SRVUSD spokesperson Elizabeth Graswich said.
In July, Danville police confirmed a previously released coroner's report, finding that no signs of foul play nor criminal negligence occurred with regard to the 15-year-old's death on May 8. They also determined that his death was not self-inflicted -- as some initial reports suggested.
Attendees at Tuesday’s board meeting contended that Becker was still not fit to care for the lives of students.
“How am is supposed to allow my son to go to his class in a weights class when he begins the year saying this is the most dangerous class in school,” SRVHS father Joe Olson said. “This is a man who allowed a child to die on his watch... How is it possible that this man was not put on any leave whatsoever?”
“He was never even put on leave while the investigation was in progress,” Katrina Curry added. “He failed in his most basic responsibility as a teacher.”
District officials have not confirmed whether any disciplinary action was taken against Becker or any other employees for Ben Curry's death, citing employee privacy and potential litigation.
Some residents have gone so far as to create an online petition calling for the removal of Becker.
Several residents who spoke believed the drowning was preventable, citing a near drowning incident that occurred at California High School in 2017.
“Just seven months prior a student (nearly) drowned at Cal High during her PE swim class. She was revived thanks to an attentive teacher doing his job and the San Ramon Aquatic Center lifeguards. This teacher then brought this to your attention at a school board meeting,” Katrina Curry said.
She was referring to an incident that occurred in November 2017, when a PE teacher at California High School saved a student from drowning after the student had a seizure in the San Ramon Olympic Pool. The teacher was able to pull the drowning student out of the water and then an available lifeguard performed life-saving CPR.
Previously the district had not mandated lifeguards be present at school pools, a policy that has since changed in the wake of Ben Curry's death. Swimming has also been temporarily removed from the district's PE curriculum.